AN ADDRESS BY MR. M. R. AHUJA
Chairman: The President, Mr. Eric F. Thompson
Thursday, January 24, 1946
MR. THOMPSON: Gentlemen, our guest of honour is no stranger to the Empire Club, in that shortly after his arrival in Canada four years ago, he joined this organization. It is therefore with a sense of pride that we today have the privilege of presenting to you one of our members.
Our speaker, who was born in the Province of Punjab, India, is a graduate of the Indian Universities. He is today an officer of the Government of India, serving in the Department of Commerce. Between 1934 and 1940, he was stationed in Milan, Italy and London, England as Trade Commissioner and in September, 1941, was appointed the first India Government Trade Commissioner to Canada.
Since his arrival in this country, in addition to his duties as Trade Commissioner, he was appointed as Government of India Adviser to the 26th Session of International Labour Conference, held at Philadelphia early in 1944 and, represented the Government of India at the 95th Session of the Governing Body of the International Labour Organization, held at Quebec in June last.
During the Fall of 1945, Mr. Ahuja was called back to India by his Government for consultation purposes and on his trip travelled some 42,000 miles, during which he toured India extensively, giving talks on Canada and trade possibilities between our two countries. It is not only necessary that the people of India hear more about Canada, but it is, I feel, equally as important that we in Canada hear more about India.
Not enough has been said about the great part India played in the war just ended; few realize that she provided an army of over 2,500,000, the largest volunteer force in history. In the reconquest of Burma, where over a million troops representing 9 different countries were used, over 700,000 of them were provided by the Indian Army. The Indian troops served with great distinction in both the African Campaign and Italy and, were awarded more Victoria Crosses than any other army of the British Commonwealth.
Today we are to hear an address on "New India" and, it is with great pleasure that I now give you Mr. M. R. Ahuja.
MR. M. R. AHUJA: I am deeply grateful to you, Sir, for your warm welcome and for the very nice things you have said about me. I am fully conscious of the honour that is mine in speaking to this distinguished gathering and, being equally conscious of my own limitations and of what I am about to say, my one fear is that you may afterwards regret half of the good things you have just said. I must, however, make it clear that any views that I may express are entirely mine and for which I alone am responsible.
Sir, I am here today in response to your very kind invitation extended to me just before I left for India on a flying visit. It was indeed a flying visit, for during the three months that I was away from Canada I covered more than 40,000 miles around the two hemispheres, flying almost all the way by all kinds of aircrafts. To sight one's own beloved land after an absence abroad of more than four years is enough to cause excitement to any living soul but to witness, as I did, all across that ancient land the birth during the interval of a new nation already on the march with heads high-proud of its great past and confident of its still greater future-is enough to awaken any dead soul. Sir, it is of this great dawn that I have witnessed breaking, after a long, long mournful night, of this renascent light, of this long-awaited but destined spring, of this country of four hundred million souls no more timid nor cringing, it is of this New India inspired by the past and enlightened by the present, that I am here to speak to you today.
Sir, it is true that I spent only but nine bare weeks in India but isn't it equally true that more books on India have been written by men and women who took a few days--or a few weeks "Cook's Tour" of India than by those who stayed long enough to understand, appreciate and respect her ancient culture and her deep understanding and study of the spiritual and cultural values of life. During the sixty-five odd days that I spent in India, I was almost constantly on the move, visiting and talking to businessmen, industrialists, financiers, statesmen, soldiers and scientists in almost every town of importance, both in British India and the Indian States, sometimes attending as many as nine meetings a day-interrupted only by sporadic visits to New Delhi for consultations with the various Departments of the Government of India. I gave the Indian Mercantile Community a brief account of my stewardship of their interests in Canada; I told them of the prospects of postwar trade between our two countries and what they must do to see it expand and enlarge to our mutual advantage. I made it plain to them that the trade is a two-lane traffic and in trying to increase the load on our side of the road we must follow the rules of the road and keep clear the traffic moving also in the opposite direction. I told them of Canada's achievements, her great desire to trade with us, and the deep sympathy of her people for our hopes and our aspirations. But while I told them all this and more and discussed with them their problems and difficulties, I also learnt from them of their sufferings and their fears, as well as of their new courage and fearless determination. I learnt at first hand, of the many exploits and victories as well as privations and sufferings in the field of war of the over two million voluntary Indian soldiers whose fierce gallantry and keen martial spirit won the Indian armies innumerable decorations and awards, including no less than 33 Victoria Crosses. These heroes on their return home in towns and villages may not yet see India of their dreams but they cannot fail to see that their ageless India, once Empress of the sovereign past, is no more uncertain about her future--she is now awake, aspiring and on the threshold of stirring and far reaching economic, social and political changes. India is no longer "a static society in a dynamic world" but a world force that must and shall have its rightful place in the East as in the West. Illiteracy, ignorance, ill health and poverty that have sapped and sucked India's life for innumerable years must be fought and conquered not tomorrow but now. Universal, free and compulsory primary education for all, with promise of high school and university, or higher technical education, for the more deserving, constitute only one of the ambitious and revolutionary changes that are being introduced as part of the postwar reconstruction schemes. Free hospitalization, establishment of health centres, medical clinics and maternity welfare centres are to be provided for the poverty and disease stricken millions. India's communications and travelling facilities are to be rapidly expanded so as to connect and closely knit together the large towns with the villages and the hamlets scattered all over the countrv. To achieve these and other ambitious programmes, India's national wealth must be increased commensurate with her vast resources and large manpower-wealth which shall provide for a high and stable level of employment and raise the utterly low standard of living. Although steps are being taken to increase agricultural production and to reorganize India's ancient and traditional cottage industries to meet modern requirements, it is fully realized that in order to achieve a balanced economy India must undertake an extensive development of modern and up-to-date industries. India is determined to industrialize and the reasons are not hard to understand. She also has all the essentials necessary for modern industrial development. She has natural resources rivaling in variety and extent with those of the United States and the Soviet Union. She has emerged from the war a creditor nation. Her prewar heavy sterling debt has almost been wiped out and she has accumulated sterling credits amounting to more than four billion dollars. She has the heredity of skilled craftsmanship, handed down from the days when Indian manufactures occupied a prominent place in the world of commerce--when Indian calicoes, silks and muslins were the rage of the fashionable European world, and Indian steel was used to forge the famous blades of Damascus. The present war has demonstrated in unmistakable terms that under modern conditions a country without highly developed industries has no political future.
Sir, the idea of industrialization which has been a fond hope and a gradually increasing reality for many years, today holds first place and plans and projects, both short and long-term, are forging ahead with all possible speed. Industrialization of India is as inevitable and as necessary as the rising of the sun and it cannot be stopped. Industrialization is necessary because it is the only means to provide its teeming masses with two meals a day. India has no ulterior purpose in harnessing her vast natural resources and developing her industries. All that India desires are the ways and means to gather from the bounty of the world a fair share of the world's goods and services, subject only to a policy of peaceful and harmonious co-operation with the rest of the Empire and the world. Prosperity and peace are indivisible and complimentary and India must be prepared to take her rightful place in the modern industrial world if peace and prosperity are to be the common heritage of man both in the West and in the East. A free, progressive and prosperous India is sure to prove a bastion of democracy and a mainstay of our expanding world economy in and outside the Empire. Canada as a sister nation can and must, therefore, help India in her industrialization (1) by supplying the much needed capital goods, (2) by setting up wherever possible and mutually advantageous, industries in India in joint partnership with Indian capital and management, (3) by providing technical skill and knowledge, and (4) by training Indian technicians and students in Canadian industry. New India does not believe in isolation and she is anxious to know and to co-operate with Canada as with the rest of the Empire. India is looking farther afield and beyond her own horizons. Realizing the necessity for the promotion of goodwill between our two countries, a Canada Institute has recently been founded in India and the Government of India Information Services are being extended to Canada by the attachment to the office of the India Government Trade Commissioner of an Indian Information Officer, who has already arrived on this continent and who will take up his duties early next month. I am looking forward to the establishment in Canada of an India Institute which may help to create a better understanding amongst Canadians of India's problems and her aspirations.
Sir, while I am appealing to the Canadian industry for cooperation, I trust I will not be abusing your hospitality if, in conclusion, I were to make use of this platform to beg of the Canadian press, the Canadian statesman, the Canadian man and woman all over this great Dominion, for understanding and appreciation of New India, her present struggle and her future hopes. May I, in the name of and for the sake of Empire solidarity and unity, which I assure you in all earnestness is as dear to me as I know it is to you, pray to you to try to see through the maze of misrepresentation, misunderstanding and misconception, often deliberately built around India, and to refrain from saying or doing that which may at this crucial moment of our history, when the fate of India hangs in the balance, harm the very interest so dear to our hearts. New India is young and the youth is impatient, restless and extremely sensitive. Let us, those who genuinely and sincerely believe in the growing greatness of the Empire and what it stands for, show by our actions and precept, when tempers may run high in some quarters, that the road to success and greatness lies in tolerance and in helpful understanding of what is good in the other and not by enlarging upon what may be bad, or what we may consider to be bad. I have no hesitation whatsever in confessing that in the New India I have tried to describe to you there are naturally, many faults and weaknesses and there are also included in it many a man who may not see eye to eye with me. But I do say this without fear of contradiction that India's problems, which are often described as insurmountable and her weaknesses which are often deliberately capitalized, are basically no different from many other countries, including Canada. India's minority and majority problems of which one hears so much are definitely more political in nature than of any other origin and these are certainly not confined to India alone. I cannot think of a more glaring example of lack of understanding of this so-called problem than is evident from the comments that recently appeared in the Canadian press generally on the results of elections to the Indian Legislative Assembly, which were announced early this month. For example, in commenting on the fact that almost all the non-Moslem seats had been won by the Congress Party, and almost all the Moslem seats by the Moslem League, the press generally tried to interpret this result as showing that the cleavage along racial and religious lines could hardly have been sharper. Sir, I wish that the press, in all fairness, should have at the same time tried to explain to its readers the fact that under the present constitution not only the elections in India are not held on basis of universal adult sufferings as in Canada but generally the voters, who constitute only about 11 per cent of the total population, must vote according to their religion. A comparable requirement in Canada would, for example, mean that a Roman Catholic must vote only for a Roman Catholic and I leave it to you to guess who would be elected to the Catholic seats, and the interpretation of such a result upon Canadian body politics.
India's social problems, including her so-called caste systems, of which the missionary and the clergy are particularly happy to make a political playground while professing christian charity, although primarily the curse of poverty, are yet in basic structure and form no different to the class and colour distinctions that one witnesses in other countries. I admit that there are extremist elements in India who talk and behave as if they would have nothing to do with the Empire and the Dominions if they had their way but, Sir, isn't it equally true that, while professing equality and liberty for all, there also still exist in the Empire and in the Dominions "Colonel Blimp" and his kind who refuse even to the use of the word "Commonwealth" lest its very mention should in any way weaken the Empire by invoking in the hearts of the peoples outside the Dominions any aspiration to share perhaps one day in the wealth and the fortunes of the Empire in common with the others. Sir, suspicion begets suspicion, and I beg that in our references to India we should try to think and speak of a sister nation; if not an elder sister who had a great and honourable past, at least as a younger sister who is soon to come of age. I venture to speak in the name of the Empire and of the Commonwealth because I sincerely and honestly believe that the British Empire is based on moral foundations, on certain verities of life, on fairness, on justice and equality, on promoting the happiness of humanity as a whole and not of any particular section or group of people. While I believe this, I also equally and strongly believe that so long as these loftier ideals continue to animate the British peoples and the peoples of the Dominions, of Canada, New India will be only too willing to be an equal partner in the British Commonwealth of Nations and the Empire.
Sir, I, for one, have no fears whatsoever about India's future, her rightful place in the Empire and in the World. I know my compatriots and have the fullest confidence in them. I also know my British friends, their love of fair play and sense of justice and, above all, I have infinite faith in the judgment and foresight of that great, simple man who, at the present critical moment of India's history, represents the Crown in India-Field Marshal Lord Wavell, Viceroy and Governor-General of India. I had the proud privilege and honour of partaking his gracious hospitality and I can tell you, without exaggeration, that no one I know embodies in greater measure all that is true and noble in the British character than this distinguished soldier and God-fearing statesman.
Sir, a strong, united, democratic and prosperous India shall prove a pillar of strength to the Empire and a bulwark against expansion of any ideologies other than those guaranteeing peace and freedom of the world. This is my belief, my conviction, my creed and my religion.